In early 1942 Wa.Prüf 4, the German organization in charge of field artillery, put forward a design requirement for a vehicle to move heavy artillery. The main stipulation was that it should use parts from the new Panther medium tank. A similar competition was already underway for a vehicle to move lighter field artillery, such as 10.5 cm guns, using the Geschützwagen III/IV chassis. This had inspired Wa.Prüf 4 to do the same for a vehicle to move heavier 12.8 cm and 15 cm artillery pieces, as the Geschützwagen III/IV was too small to handle them. The guns in question were the 12.8 cm K 43 and 15 cm sFH 43. The sFH 43 (schwerer Feld Haubitze, heavy field howitzer) was a projected improvement on the 15 cm sFH 18, the new gun was to use bagged propellant and had a screw-type breech. The 12.8 cm Kanone 43 is unknown in most literature but is presumably a predecessor to the 12.8 cm K 44 L/55. Neither of these cannons were ever built.
In order to keep weight down, the designs were to be open-topped. Prototypes were to be built using Panther parts, but it was projected that any serial production vehicles would be made using the Panther II chassis. This idea was discarded when the Panther II was cancelled in June of 1943. Both Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig took part in this design competition. All designs were able to be transported by rail with a few adjustments, and all could carry at least 30 rounds, however, Rheinmetall’s design had trouble with this.
Despite these vehicles being colloquially known as waffenträgers, very few designs carried the name waffenträger in their designation. Despite “waffenträger” literally meaning “weapon carrier”, most German weapon carriers were called Selbstfahrlafette, meaning “self-propelled gun carriage”.
Krupp’s Cricket – (Sfl.) Krupp I and II
Krupp immediately set to work and on July 1st, 1942, came up with the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I (indexed Gerät 5-1211) and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I (indexed Gerät 5-1528). Both vehicles were nearly identical, only differing in armament. Both vehicles had a dismountable, 360-degree rotating turret and muzzle brakes on their cannons. The 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp I’s 15 cm sFH 43 L/35.5 had a range of 18 km (11.18 miles). The chassis was called Bauelemente Fahrgestell Panther, literally “components of the Panther chassis.” No blueprints of these vehicles survive, leaving their appearance a mystery.
Shortly after designing the first vehicles, Krupp produced another version, the (Sfl.) Krupp II. Again, the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Krupp II and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Krupp II were identical except for armament. This second design also had a fully traversable dismounting turret. The chassis was also lengthened slightly, giving a wheelbase of 4,200mm. A full-scale wooden mock-up of the 12.8 cm version was built in November 1942 and shown to Wa.Prüf 4 in January 1943. At this time Krupp stated they could have a working prototype ready by the 1st of September if they received the needed Pather components by the 1st of May, 1943.
12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 12 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
15 cm sFH 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 15 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Grille 12 Wooden Mockup
On the 18th of February, 1943, an order was placed for the construction of two (Sfl.) Krupp I prototypes; one 12.8 cm and the other 15 cm. On February 24th, 1943, Wa.Prüf 4 informed Krupp of the cover names that were assigned to their projects. The (Sfl.) Krupp I was named Heuschrecke (Grasshopper), and the (Sfl.) Krupp II was named Grille (Cricket).
These blueprints, from November 25th, 1942, show the existing Grille 15 design on top, and on the bottom show an improved version proposed on the 11th of November. The November 11th design has the fighting compartment 15mm lower and slightly forward than that of the existing design, it is also equipped with a new type of muzzle brake. Whether or not this proposal was incorporated into the Grille 15, we do not know at this time. Source
This set of blueprints show the process by which the gun assembly would be dismounted. The vehicle’s gun barrel would be used as a jib. A block and tackle would be attached to allow it to lift the metal frame pieces off the front of the hull and put them in position behind the turret; forming a ramp. Wheels would be attached to the turret pedestal, and a winch on the hull would lower it down the ramp. Once off the vehicle, support legs could be attached to the turret pedestal allowing it to be used as a field gun. Overall a quite complicated process. Source
On the 11th of March, 1943, due to concerns that production of the new 15 cm sFH 43 would be slow, Wa.Prüf 4 requested that the option of mounting the older 15 cm sFH 18 on the Grille 15 be looked into. By April 20th it was determined that utilizing the sFH 18 would cause too many problems. Instead, development went ahead using the 15 cm sFH 43, incorporating as many parts from the 15 cm sFH 18 as possible.
On April 3rd, 1943 Wa.Prüf 6 (the German organization in charge of military vehicles) stepped in and told Krupp they were only allowed to build a prototype of the Grille. On the 5th of May 1943, Krupp informed Wa.Prüf 6 that the February 8th order for two Heuschreckes had been canceled.
On the 21st of May, 1943, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg (M.A.N.), the company producing the Panther, was told to manufacture a complete set of suspension components, engine, transmission and drive train, as well as driver’s periscope and telescoping air intake for Krupp’s Grille prototype.
On June 7th, 1943, Krupp reported that a 1:10th scale mockup of the Grille would be ready by about mid-July, and a full-size prototype by the 1st of November. At an unknown date the 12.8 cm K 43 cannon was changed to a 12.8 cm K 44 L/55 with conventional breach; the 15 cm sFH 43 as well now had a conventional breech instead of a screw-type breach.
By the 20th of October, 1943, Krupp had failed to produce a prototype. Wa.Prüf 4 saw the project as going nowhere and ordered Krupp to stop all work on the project. Krupp did stop work on the Grille and Heuschrecke, but continued to design Panther-based weapons carriers.
Grille Design from January 18th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
If at First You Don’t Succeed… – Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18
On January 20th, 1944, Krupp produced drawing SKA 879 for the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 (Self-propelled vehicle with dismountable 15 cm sFH 18). The vehicle was basically a normal Panther chassis with a wheelbase of 3,920mm; however, the rear of the hull was lengthened slightly to support a rear mounted artillery turret. The turret rested on a metal box; the turret and box forming the fighting compartment. Using metal beams apparently attached to the idler wheel, the entire assembly could be lifted up and off the vehicle by driving a few feet in reverse. Once off the chassis, the gun assembly could be used as a standalone artillery piece.
On February 3rd, 1943, Krupp presented a second design with drawing SKB 891. This version had the turret centrally mounted with the engine in the rear. The turret, which looks remarkably similar to that of the Heuschrecke 10, was lifted off over the front of the tank in the version 2, as opposed to over the rear as in the version 1. A wooden mockup of the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 version 2 was built, but neither design progressed past this point.
A conceptual model of the Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18, for unknown reasons, the chassis is not that of a Panther. Perhaps originally it was intended to use a custom chassis. This design has often been misidentified as the Heuschrecke 15.
Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 Version 1 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Selbstfahrlafette mit Absetzbarer 15 cm sFH 18 Version 2 Wooden Mockup
Skorpion of the Rhein – (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
Like Krupp, Rheinmetall-Borsig also presented their first designs on the 1st of July, 1942. They were the 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig (indexed Gerät 5-1213), and 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig (indexed Gerät 5-1530). The vehicles were identical except for armament. Both had a 360-degree rotating turret and a hydraulic gun dismounting mechanism designed by Daimler-Benz, similar to that used on the Heuschrecke 10.
The 12.8 cm version was armed with a 12.8 cm K 43 L/51 with no muzzle brake. It fired a 28 kilogram projectile at 850 meters per second (2,789 ft/s), at a maximum range of 22 km (13.67 miles). The gun assembly for this version weighed 6.2 metric tons; the total weight of the vehicle was about 38 metric tons. The 15 cm version was armed with a 15 cm sFH 43 L/32.5; identical to the gun used on Krupp’s design except that Rheinmetall’s had no muzzle brake. The armament weighed 8.2 metric tons and consequently left the vehicle weighing 40 metric tons – 2 tons more than the 12.8 cm version. A prototype for each was expected to be ready by Summer 1943.
Rheinmetall’s design was seemingly met with little enthusiasm; Krupp’s Grille was the clear favorite. Despite the design not having been rejected, Rheinmetall chose to drop their original entry and proceed with another design.
12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – please note the end of the barrel has been cropped off in this image. (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
15 cm sFH 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
On January 7th, 1943, Rheinmetall produced three more designs. In reality, these were the same vehicle, but with different armaments. The vehicles had centrally mounted, 360-degree rotating, dismountable turrets. The chassis was that of a Panther, extended to a wheelbase of 4,220mm.
Drawing H-SkB 80449 for 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
Drawing H-SkB 80450 for 12.8 cm K 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
Drawing H-SkB 80451 for 12.8 cm P 43 (Sfl.) Rheinmetall-Borsig
This version of the 15 cm sFH 43 (Sfl.) had a slightly longer gun barrel at L/34. It fired a 43.5 kilogram projectile at 600 meters per second (1,968.5 ft/s) up to 15 km (9.32 miles) range. The 12.8 cm P 43 was a high-performance (presumably) dedicated anti-tank gun. It fired a sub-caliber 14 kilogram (31 lb) shell at 1,175 meters per second (3,855 ft/s). Rheinmetall said they could have a prototype ready by the 1st of August if they received the needed Panther parts by the 1st of April, 1943. A wooden mockup was built of one of the 12.8 cm-armed versions, but this design did not advance any further.
12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – January 7th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
12.8 cm Selbstfahrlafette Rheinmetall-Borsig – January 7th, 1943 Wooden Mockup
On or around the 24th of February, 1943, Rheinmetall’s entry for the Selbstfahrlafette für 12.8 cm K 43 und 15 cm sFH 43 Project was assigned the cover name “Skorpion”. This name probably covered the January 7th design, but since it is not known when Rheinmetall abandoned it, it cannot be said for certain.
Unwilling to stop perfecting the design, Rheinmetall continued to design more versions. On the 2nd of April 1943, they produced drawing H-SKA 81959 for the 12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen; and on April 16th drawing H-SKA 82566 for 15 cm sFH 18 mit Panther Bauteilen. These designs had a Panther-based chassis with a wheelbase of 4,025mm. Around the 20th of October 1943, Wa.Prüf 4 canceled the Grille, Heuschrecke, and Skorpion projects.
12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen – April 2nd, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
15 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen – April 16th, 1943 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Not Done Yet – 15 cm sFH 18 auf Panther Bauteilen
Despite the Skorpion project being canceled, Rheinmetall continued to make more vehicle proposals in the early part of 1944. These final designs shared the modified Panther chassis developed for the Skorpion. Drawing H-SKA 86187 from the 11th of January, 1944 was yet another proposal for mounting the 15 cm sFH 18 on a Panther-based chassis. An improved version of this design came on January 31st with drawing H-SKA 88200. At some point, the mounting of the gun was raised from 2,500mm to 2,750mm off the ground to allow greater elevation. Further details are unknown.
It seems that after this, Rheinmetall-Borsig stopped all work on Panther-based weapons carriers. If they did take part in the design competition for the July 6th, 1944 requirement; the design has been lost. However, it is more likely they did not; leaving Krupp the only entry.
H-SKA 88200 (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Round Two – Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther
Please note that the dates for this section are contradictory. Panther & Its Variants gives the date of the issuing of the Geschützwagen Panther für sFH 18/4 (Sf) requirement as February 11th, 1944; while Panther Variants 1942-1945 gives it as July 6th. July seems to be the correct date; it also comes from the more recent book. Strangely, one sentence in Panther & Its Variants says that the Gerät 811 was based on “AZ 735 Wa.Prüf 4/Is from July 6th, 1944.” This would seem to indicate that the Gerät 811 was an entry for the July 6th requirement; perhaps the authors did not realize this at the time. Very little is known about the Gerät 811, apart from the fact it was armed with a 15 cm sFH 18/4. It is plausible that Krupp’s Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther was assigned the designation Gerät 811, but that is just conjecture.
On the 6th of July 1944, Wa.Prüf 4 put out the Geschützwagen Panther für sFH 18/4 (Sf) requirement: a request for designs for a vehicle based on the Panther. In near identical repetition of the events two years prior, the requirements were that the vehicle carries a 15cm gun in a dismountable turret that could rotate 360 degrees. The 15 cm sFH 18 cannon was required to have no muzzle brake, as it was supposed to be able to fire Sprenggranate 42 TS sabot rounds. Without the muzzle brake, the force of recoil of the cannon was a massive 28 metric tons; this was deemed acceptable for the chassis.
Krupp was the only company to show interest; on the 16th of September 1944, they unveiled drawing Bz 3423 for the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther. It had a hexagonal, forward mounted turret on a lightly armored Panther chassis. The turret rested on a round pedestal within the tank. To remove the turret assembly, the turret was traversed 90 degrees to the left. The left side panel was folded down, forming two guide rails running perpendicular to the tank. At the end of each guide rail was a vertical spar, reinforced to one another with crossbeams. Roller blocks with two wheels each were affixed to either side of the turret and allowed it to be hoisted up, presumably by hand, onto the guide rails, where it was free to roll. Exactly how the turret was then moved off the tank is unclear. This whole process is described only in “Panther & Its Variants”, which states that two block and tackles were used to lift the turret. These would require some type of overhead gantry, which, if correct, raises the question as to why hoisting the turret assembly onto guide rails first is necessary at all. Presumably, the Panther was then driven away and the turret assembly lowered to the ground.
However the dismounting process was intended; once the turret assembly was on the ground four outriggers, which were otherwise stored fore and aft of the turret on the tank’s hull, were attached to it. Wa.Prüf 4 required that the number of outriggers be changed to three, as this would lower the gun’s overall height and give the gun crew easier access.
Shortly afterward, on the 21st of September 1944, Krupp produced a second version with the turret mounted centrally. Along with the second version, Krupp also proposed a version armed with the 12.8 cm K 44 L/55 (with muzzle brake). The 12.8 cm version’s turret was longer and slightly taller.
Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther Version 2 – 15 cm Version (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Mittelerer Waffenträger K 44 auf Panther Version 2 – 12.8 cm Version (Drawing Copyright Hilary Louis Doyle)
Only one day later, on the 22nd of September 1944, Krupp representative Dr. Bankwitz met with Wa.Prüf 4 in Berlin. Despite the requirement for a weapons carrier being only two months old, Wa.Prüf 4 ordered Krupp to stop all work on these designs, as they were no longer needed and the Panther chassis was no longer to be used for such purposes.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender
Completely ignoring Wa.Prüf 4’s demands, Krupp produced drawing Bz 3445 on October 12th, 1944 for the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther (dünnwandig) (dünnwandig means “thin-walled”). This was a lighter version of the Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther. It had thinner armor, carried only 50 rounds of ammunition instead of 60, and had a redesigned, cylindrical turret. These changed saved 7 metric tons of weight.
On the 25th of October 1944, the High Command General of Artillery suggested doing away with the requirement for a dismountable, 360 degree traversing turret for possible future weapons carriers. However, this was deemed necessary and the suggestion was declined. On the 23rd of December 1944, General Wolfgang Thomale requested that the High Command General of Artillery hold off on issuing another panther-based weapons carrier requirement, as Panther production numbers were lower than expected. Instead, he requested that they wait to see if the role could be fulfilled by the upcoming 38(d) platform.
Due to the situation of the War in late 1944 and 1945, surviving information on the remaining projects is highly fragmented.
A Directive dated November 19th, 1944, ordered the cessation of the Gerät 808 project, a Panther-based weapon carrier for the 15 cm sFH 18/2, due to the plans not being ready.
A telex message dated February 6th, 1945, stated that the chassis without turret that Krupp required for the Schwerer Panzerhaubitze was waiting at the steel works in Hannover.
A February 20th, 1945 report on the emergency situation of the War gave a list of projects that were to be immediately terminated. On that list was a 15 cm sFH 18 auf Panther Bauteilen.
Special Panzer Variants: Development – Production – Operations – Hilary Louis Doyle and Walter J. Spielberger, 2007
Panther Variants 1942-1945 – Osprey New Vanguard, 1997
Panther & Its Variants – Walter J. Spielberger, 1993
12.8 cm K 43 Selbstfahrlafette Krupp II/Grille 12 illustration by David Bocquelet
Waffentrager 12.8 cm Skorpion mit Panther Bauteilen by Jaroslav Janas
Mittelerer Waffenträger sFH 18 auf Panther Version 2 – 15 cm Version. Illustration by David Bocquelet and Alexe Pavel